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High speed rail projects to get $115 million federal boost

(The following story by Matthew Santoni appeared on the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review website on March 31, 2010.)

PITTSBURGH, Pa. Federal officials today will make available $115 million for planning and designing high-speed rail projects, reviving hopes for the slowly progressing Pittsburgh Maglev project.

States can start applying to the Federal Railroad Administration for grant money today, administration spokesman Rob Kulat said. Unlike $8 billion in federal stimulus money for high-speed passenger rail projects that went mostly to "shovel-ready" projects in Florida, California and the Midwest, this money is set aside for projects in early phases of development.

"Most of it is for planning, which is what a lot of the states need -- environmental planning, designs, engineering," Kulat said.

Fred Gurney, president of McKeesport-based Maglev Inc., said he'd probably apply for some of the money for the $5.25 billion Pittsburgh project, which would connect Pittsburgh

International Airport, Downtown, Monroeville and Greensburg with a magnetically levitating train. The project sought $2.3 billion from the stimulus bill for engineering and the first phase of construction, but was passed over.

"We will consider bidding on any kind of funding available," Gurney said. The project got $52.5 million in federal grants since 1999, but $28 million of it wasn't turned over because the state didn't come up with a $7 million match.

Pennsylvania got $26.4 million from the last round of passenger rail stimulus money in January, mostly to pay for improvements to increase speed of trains between Harrisburg and Philadelphia. The state got a $750,000 grant to study increasing service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, served by two trains a day in each direction.

PennDOT spokeswoman Erin Waters said it's unclear whether the state would apply for any money.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

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